ONE ON ONE WITH AARON WALTON
Growing up in the Boston area, Aaron Walton ’83 knew he had plenty of choice when it came to selecting a high-caliber college to attend.
“As I stared at the cold brick buildings and inner city campuses, I became aware that I really wanted to be part of a place that was more of a community,” he said. “A place where the professor knew me by name, read my papers, remembered my questions and felt that he or she had a real stake in my future.”
The desire to choose a community, not just a college, led him to Babson, where the curriculum ultimately sealed the deal. “Babson’s focus on entrepreneurship was the biggest selling point for me, because it seemed so steeped in what was actually going to be important in the future.”
Now, as a founding partner at Walton Isaacson, he’s at the helm of the “planet’s most interesting agency,” providing award-winning strategic and creative solutions to brand marketers. The agency specializes in sports, lifestyle, entertainment, experiential and branded content, as well as cultural expertise across general market, black, Hispanic, and LGBT consumer segments.
“I’m really lucky in that what I do truly interests me,” said Walton. “What I do professionally adds to a rich and rewarding personal life.”
His career achievements make him a sage source of advice, and he has returned to campus many times to share his experiences and wisdom with the Babson community. In 2016, he spoke at Babson’s Lavender Graduation, urging graduating LGBTQ+ and ally students to “not be afraid to be who you are”—the business world demands passionate individuals who can identify what’s next and who don’t protect the status quo. In 2017, he delivered the keynote address at Babson’s Black Affinity Conference, encouraging the audience to “turn your dreams into a reality instead of thinking your ideas are a dream.”
We spoke with Walton to learn more about his career and how Babson shaped his life.
What impact did Babson have on you?
“It had a profound impact on me academically, but perhaps more importantly, it immediately taught me the ground rules of what professionalism was, and how to interact and communicate with people in the real world. Ironically, it became the skill that earned me the respect and trust of some of the most important and creative performing artists in the world.”
“People are the best asset that any educational institution or organization can offer. When I talk to people who went to other schools, it invariably crops up that their relationships with the faculty were more at arm’s length, lacking the spontaneity and collegiality that I experienced at Babson.”
What Babson lesson still sticks with you today?
“Being someone’s boss doesn’t automatically buy you the respect and resolve from the people who you want to have working for you. Being decisive is especially admired in a world where, increasingly, too many people don’t want to put themselves on the line.”
What inspired you to co-found Walton Isaacson?
“In many ways, my career has been built on bringing something different to the table and increasingly bringing my passions for pop culture, fashion, and design (to name a few) to my profession. My move directly into the advertising field came from a belief that I could offer something different from most conventional agencies who were running on autopilot. It was clear to me that they were increasingly tone deaf to a huge range of consumers who they only pretended to talk to and understand.”
What role does entrepreneurship play at Walton Isaacson?
“While many companies look at someone’s résumé and want to see that someone has done exactly that job at comparable companies, I also value how most entrepreneurs have been willing to take risks, expand their horizons, and to take on any number of different tasks in order to keep the lights on. In honor of the gay civil rights icon, Bayard Rustin, I like to fill my company with ‘angelic troublemakers’ who don’t believe in working off of someone else’s template.”
How do you stay connected to Babson?
“I’ve been active in alumni affairs and as a former member of the board of trustees and regularly in touch with some of my former professors. We regularly hire interns from Babson who are especially grateful for the opportunity and gracious toward people who can teach them something.”